Fine-Tuning the Activity Sheet

Formatting activities for the application.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

I’ve written about putting together an activity sheet or high school resume in an earlier post. Once that’s done, your student should use this master sheet to create a new list of their top 10 extra-curriculars, ready to copy and paste into their college applications.

The activities section rounds out your student’s story. Along with the essay, this is a place for your teen to highlight what makes them more interesting than students with similar GPAs and test scores.

Marching Band2

Determine what goes on this list Anything a student has done outside of the classroom goes here: extra-curriculars such as sports and the arts, as well as volunteering and working. The list should include the activities that are most important to your teen, and the most impressive. Any activities mentioned in the essay/personal statement must be on the list.

Understand the parameters The Common App allows for 10 activities, the Coalition, 8. The Common App restricts the name of the activity/organization and the applicant’s role to a combined 50 characters, with the description of the activity maxing out at 150 characters. The Coalition doesn’t provide maximum or minimum character/word counts; I suggest using the Common App guidelines.

Colleges understand the limitations here, and don’t expect students to write in complete sentences. But avoid bullet points. Edit them from the high school resume into comprehensive statements. Using an “&” for “and” is acceptable, as are abbreviations and little to no descriptions for well-known organizations, i.e. Girls Scouts. Focusing on what the student did with or in the group, rather than the role of the group itself works best.

Prioritize the activities The activity most important to the applicant goes first. It helps if it’s the most impressive and one your student participated in all four years (although a volunteer project might be a one-time event). If they’ve achieved or accomplished something most other applicants haven’t, it belongs here, at or near the top.

Mix up the types of activities. A three-sport varsity athlete will want to show that their work on a community service project or student government mattered to them by listing it in-between the various sports.

For each activity, an applicant will be asked if they plan to continue it in college. The answer should be YES for at least one, preferably in the top three. This in no way commits your student to participating once they’re on campus, but shows the activity was meaningful to them and their desire to get involved in college. Answering YES to more than one is fine, too, but no reason to go overboard. Colleges want students who will find and explore new interests, too.

Construct sentences carefully Use active verbs. Vary the first words for each activity. Include a personal achievement when possible, like MVP of the track team. Otherwise focus on the success of the group involved, such as being a member of the marching band that won the state championship.

Show leadership where possible. Students who weren’t officers of the group or captain of the team but participated by doing more than showing up for meetings, can highlight that. Running an annual fundraiser might qualify them as fundraising chair, or finding or welcoming new members can qualify as membership coordinator. The team’s coach or group’s advisor can help with this. A promotion of any type at their job belongs here, too.

Your student wants to keep in mind how this is going to read as part of the overall package they’re creating to tell a college about themselves.

Know what to keep off or to the bottom of the list Volunteer trips or summer programs that Mom and Dad paid for instead of ones that were free or fundraised for are less impressive because they imply your student was only able to participate because they could afford to. Volunteer or community service projects required for graduation matter more if your student took an active role and can offer a personal or insightful reason for choosing this particular assignment.

Your student should review their master high school resume or activity sheet and then determine which extra-curriculars belong on their application. The list can be customized for colleges that don’t use the Common App or Coalition application. Having the details and descriptions in one file, ready to transfer to the application, will make the activities section a quick and easy one to complete.

Share your tips on finalizing the activity sheet in the comments section below.

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